County bridges to be rehabbed as part of pilot program

December 7, 2012
Washington County's Courthouse Square office building

The state Department of Transportation is embarking on a bridge pilot project in Washington County, planning to rehabilitate 19 county bridges at a cost not to exceed $7.3 million.

The county commissioners this week approved the temporary transfer of all responsibility for construction to PennDOT until the project is completed in 2014.

While the commissioners labeled the program “Commonwealth Performance of County-Owned Multi-Bridge Projects,” Steve Chizmar, spokesman for PennDOT in Harrisburg, referred to it as “bridge bundling.”

He explained that PennDOT is trying a cookie-cutter approach to answer the question, “‘Is there a way we can take all these bridges and design the repairs to suit all?’ We’re looking at saving money and bringing product to those who are paying the bills – the Pennsylvania driver.

“We’ll pick up 100 percent of that cost because we feel we can save money in the end. We are applying it to the pilot counties to see if it will actually turn out that way.”

Most county bridge projects require county taxpayers to contribute 20 percent of the cost.

Washington is one of three counties, including Blair and Luzerne, that are part of the pilot project.

The Washington County commissioners mentioned the possibility of federal taxpayer dollars footing some of the bill for the bridge repairs, but Chizmar said it is impossible at this point to determine how much, if any, federal funding may be available because of criteria such as the type of roadway, location, traffic volume and whether the bridge is part of a main road or a connector road.

The 19 spans chosen for rehabilitation came about after PennDOT representatives, Lisa Cessna, county planning commission director, and Vince Ley, county project engineer, went on field views of 30 structurally-deficient bridges with PennDOT representatives this fall. “Several were at a 3-ton weight limit,” Cessna said.

Of the 19 bridges, none is currently closed.

PennDOT hired McCormick Taylor Engineers and Planners, a Philadelphia-based firm that has a Pittsburgh office, to identify bridges in Washington County that would qualify for the bundling project.

“We gave them what we thought were the worst bridges,” Cessna said. In bridge rehabs, abutments and footings are not replaced.

PennDOT recently notified the county which bridges made the cut. Michael Baker Engineers will design the repairs.

It’s possible that, as in any bridge project, the spans will be closed during rehabilitation, but Cessna said, “Those determinations haven’t been made yet.”

Many bridges are part of Washington County’s purview because they cross creeks that often serve as boundaries for boroughs and townships. Rather than have the municipalities squabble over the cost and responsibility for bridge maintenance and replacement, the county took jurisdiction.

Washington County is responsible for 117 bridges, including several covered bridges. No covered bridges are included among the 19 to be rehabilitated.

Here is a list from the Washington County Planning Commission of the bridges to be rehabbed:

Condit and Miller’s Run bridges over Ten Mile Creek, Amwell Township;

Smith Bridge over Buffalo Creek, Buffalo Township;

Shady Avenue Bridge over Raccoon Creek, Burgettstown;

Glass Hill Bridge over Miller’s Run, Cecil Township;

McCullough Bridge over King’s Creek, Hanover Township;

Indian Camp and Cummins bridges over Sugar Camp Run, Independence Township;

Myers School Bridge over Daniels Run/Ten Mile Creek, Nichols and Dague bridges over Pigeon Creek, North Bethlehem Township;

Wylandville Bridge over Chartiers Creek, North Strabane Township;

Dunbar Bridge over Raccoon Creek, Robinson Township;

Cherry Valley Bridge over Raccoon Creek, Smith Township;

Vanceville Bridge over Pigeon Creek, Somerset Township;

Crossroads and Manan bridges over Ten Mile Creek, South Franklin Township;

Zediker and Clokely Station bridges over Little Chartiers Creek and Chartiers Creek, respectively, South Strabane Township.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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